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HALL-MARKS ON ENGLISH SILVER. 



The assaying of gold and silver 
originated in England with the Bishop of 
Salisbury, a royal treasurer in the reign 
of Henry I., although it is certain that 
some species of assay was practiced as 
early as the Roman conquest. In the 
year 1 180, during the reign of Henry II., 
a fraternity or guild of goldsmiths was 
in existence, although no charter of in- 
corporation had been granted, and the 
privilege of assaying the precious metals 
was conferred upon the Goldsmiths' 
Company of London by a statute 
passed in the year 1300, in the reign 
of Edward I. It was ordained, among 
other things, that no goldsmith of 
England should make or cause to be 
made any manner of vessel, jewel, or 
any other thing of gold or silver, ex- 
cept it be gold of a certain touch and 
silver of the sterling alloy ; that none 
work worse silver than money; that 
no manner of vessel of silver depart 
out of the hands of the workers until 
it be assayed by the members of the 
craft ; that it be marked with the 
leopard's head ; that they work no 
worse gold than of the touch of Paris 
(there being then no English gold 
coins which could be made a standard 
of goldsmiths' work) ; and that the 



wardens of the craft shall go from shop 
to shop among the goldsmiths, to as- 
say if their gold be of the same touch 
that is spoken of before, and if they 
find any other than that of the touch 
aforesaid, the gold shall be forfeit to 
the king. The first charter was granted 
by letters patent from Edward III. in 
1327 to "the Wardens and Common- 
alty of the Mystery of Goldsmiths of 
the City of London." This charter pro- 
vided that, inasmuch as goldsmiths had 
been known to make false work of 
gold, silver, and jewels, and that the 
cutters covered tin so subtilely and 
with such sleight that it could not be 
discerned nor separated, and then sold 
the tin for fine silver, therefore, no one 
should bring into the land any sort of 
money, but only plate of fine silver ; 
that no plate of gold or silver be sold 
to sell again, or be carried out of the 
kingdom, but should be sold openly 
for private use ; and that none of the 
trade shall keep any shop except in 
Cheap ; that it be seen that their work 
is good. The ordinances passed by 
the company itself in the year 1336 
enjoin that none do work in gold unless 
it be as good as the assay of the mys- 
tery, or in silver unless as good or 



HALL-MARKS ON ENGLISH SILVER. 



29 



HEN. VIII. MARY. 



1518-9 
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3° 



THE CONNOISSEUR. 



better than the king's coin or sterling, 
and that when done it shall be brought 
to the hall to be assayed ; and that such 
as will bear the touch shall be marked 
with " the owners' and sayers' marks, 
and afterward be touched with the Lib- 
erdshede crowned." Three marks are 
here spoken of: first, the goldsmiths' 
mark, namely, his initials ; second, the 
assay mark, probably a letter of the 
alphabet ; and third, the mark of the 
Goldsmiths' Hall, a leopard crowned. 
The laws which regulated the gold- 
smiths' trade were rigorously enforced, 
and in the year 1379 it was enacted by 
Parliament that every goldsmith should 
have his own proper mark upon his 
work ; and also that the king should 
assign such persons as he pleased to 
make an assay, and after it was made 
to stamp the work with another mark 
to be appointed by the king. A statute 
passed in the reign of Edward IV. di- 
rected that no goldsmith, or worker of 
gold and silver, should work or put to 
sale any gold under the fineness of 
eighteen carats, nor silver unless it was 
as fine as sterling; and in 1573 the 
master and wardens of the Goldsmiths' 
Company were compelled to give se- 
curity that in future no gold wares 
should be of less fineness than twenty- 
two carats, and silver wares eleven 
ounces two pennyweights in the pound. 
In 1675 the goldsmiths issued an 
order directing all plate-workers to 
bring their respective marks to Gold- 
smiths' Hall to be struck in a table 
kept in the assay office, and also to enter 
their names and places of habitation 
in a book kept there for that purpose ; 
no person or persons to offer for sale 
any gold or silver ware before the 
workman's mark be struck clear or 
visible on it ; and that all manner of 



silver vessels, silver hilts for swords, 
and silver buckles for belts and girdles, 
be assayed at Goldsmiths' Hall and 
there approved for standard, by strik- 
ing thereon the lion and leopards' head 
crowned, or one of them, before they 
be exposed for sale. The statute of 
1739 enacted that from that time ves- 
sels or plate of gold and silver should 
be marked with the mark of the maker 
or worker thereof, which should be the 
first letters of his Christian name and 
surname ; and these marks of the Gold- 
smiths' Company, namely, the leopard's 
head, the lion passant, and a distinct 
variable mark or letter to denote the 
year in which such plate was made. 
This applied to gold plate of twenty-two 
carats standard per pound troy, and 
to silver plate of the standard of eleven 
ounces two pennyweights per pound 
troy. Silver of the standard of eleven 
ounces ten pennyweights was to be 
marked with the first letters of the 
Christian name and surname of the mak- 
er and worker, and with the following 
marks of the company : the lion's head 
erased, the figure of a woman, com- 
monly called Britannia, and a mark or 
letter to denote the year in which the 
plate was made. In 1784 it was en- 
acted that the warden or assay master 
should mark all gold and silver plate 
with the mark of the king's head, 
over and besides the other marks 
directed by law; and in 1798 an act 
was passed to permit gold of the 
standard of eighteen carats to be 
stamped with a crown and the figures 
18 instead of the lion passant. In 
1 844 it was directed that gold wares of 
twenty-two carats standard should be 
marked with a crown and the figures 22, 
instead of the lion passant, and in 1854 
a bill was passed allowing gold ware 



HALL-MARKS ON ENGLISH SILVER. 



31 



to be manufactured at the standards of 
fifteen, twelve, and nine carats, the 
first to be marked with the figures 1 5 
and the decimal mark .625 ; the 
second with the figures 12 and the 
decimal mark .5 (500) ; and the third 
with the figure 9 and the decimal mark 
.375. At all times the laws relating 
to punishment for forging or coun- 
terfeiting any die used for marking 
gold or silver wares, or knowingly 
uttering the same, were very severe ; 
and as late as 1 844 such offenses were 
made felony punishable by transporta- 
tion for any term not exceeding fourteen 
nor less than seven years, or by im- 
prisonment with or without hard labor 
for any term not exceeding three years. 
It would be impossible within the 
.limits assigned to an ordinary magazine 
article to explain fully the changes 
which have been made from time to 
time in gold and silver plate marks, or 
the distinctive marks which individual- 
ized the plate manufactured at various 
towns ; but a general explanation can 
be given which will show the chro- 
nology, the illustrated table which 
accompanies the article enabling the 
reader to understand at a glance the 
modifications which have been brought 
about by various statutes. The duty- 
mark, which is the head in profile of 
the reigning sovereign, indicates the 
payment of the duty, and is impressed 
at the assay offices on every manufact- 
ured article of standard gold and silver 
that is liable to the duty after payment 
to the officers of the Goldsmiths' Com- 
pany, who are the appointed receivers. 
The date-mark is a letter of the alpha- 
bet, each assay office having its peculiar 
alphabetical mark, indicating the year 
in which the plate was assayed and 
stamped. In London, previous to 



the Restoration, the annual letter was 
changed on St. Dunstan's Day, May 1 9th, 
when the new wardens of the Gold- 
smiths' Company were elected. Since 
1660 the assay year commences on the 
30th of May, the new wardens being 
appointed annually on that day. The 
date-marks are continued regularly, 
with twenty letters of the alphabet, 
from A to U or V, inclusive, which are 
used in succession, the letters J, W, 
X, Y, Z being always omitted. The 
maker's mark was formerly some em- 
blem, as a star, a rose, a crown, etc., 
without the goldsmith's initials ; but, 
as has already been mentioned, it was 
ordered in 1 739 that the makers were to 
destroy their existing marks and express 
the mark by the initials of their Chris- 
tian names and surnames, in an entirely 
different type from that before used. 
Sometimes a small mark, such as across 
or star, is found near the maker's mark ; 
it is that of the workman, for the pur- 
pose of tracing the work to the actual 
hands that executed it. 

In the year 1 879 a select committee 
of the House of Commons was ap- 
pointed to inquire into the hall-mark- 
ing of gold and silver plate, the subjects 
to be investigated being the incidence 
and effect of the duties then levied upon 
articles of gold and silver manufacture, 
the effect of the existing system of 
compulsory assay and hall-marking, 
and also certain complaints against the 
operation of the law. While admit- 
ting that there were some objections to 
the principle of compulsorily assaying 
and marking articles of gold and silver 
manufacture, the committee came to 
the conclusion that the system had re- 
sulted in the creation and the mainte- 
nance of a high standard of excellence 
for all British assayed wares, which had 



3^ 



THE CONNOISSEUR. 



not only raised the reputation of Brit- 
ish workmanship at home and abroad, 
but had also created a large amount of 
private wealth readily convertible by 
reason of the guarantee of value which 
the hall-marks afford. A number of 
suggestions were made as to amending 
the acts then in force with reference to 
assaying and hall-marking, but the re- 
port of the committee was never acted 
upon. Dishonest workers have, of 
course, often attempted forgeries of 
hall-marks. By the electrotype proc- 
ess, an ancient vase, cup, or piece of 
plate may be molded with the greatest 
exactness, showing the minutest chas- 
ing and engraving and even the ham- 
mer-marks of the original, as well as 
the hall-mark itself, these reproductions 
being difficult of detection to the un- 
initiated, although an expert will at 
a glance discover the spurious copy. 
One method of detecting spurious plate 
is by a close observation of the posi- 
tion of the hall-marks on the piece of 
plate under examination. The stamp- 
ing of plate at the assay offices is not 
done at random, but is subject to offi- 
cial orders and regulations, and rules 
are issued instructing the stamping 
clerk on which particular part of each 
piece the punch is to be applied. This 
established practice dates from a very 
early period, and was so constant that 
any deviation will, to a connoisseur, 
raise in his mind doubts of the gen- 
uineness of the piece under inspection. 
Before the year 1700 the marks were 
placed upon cups and bowls outside, 
on the margin, near the mouth. On 
tankards they will be found on the mar- 
gin to the right of the handle, and if a 
flat lid, straight across in a line with 
the purchase-knob or sometimes upon 
the flange ; dishes and salvers, upon 



the faces. At and after the Queen 
Anne period these rules were altered, 
and instead of being so conspicuously 
situated, the marks were placed on the 
backs, and upon cups and bowls were 
stamped underneath or inside the hol- 
low stem of the foot and inside the lids 
of tankards. Any variation from these 
rules ought to give rise to suspicion, 
and a careful examination will be nec- 
essary to ascertain whether the piece 
of plate has been altered from its orig- 
inal shape as before alluded to. It is 
curious to note the safeguards which 
at all times have been thrown around 
the manufacture of gold and silver 
and the severe punishment which was 
meted out to fraudulent workers. In 
the year 1 597 two London goldsmiths 
were convicted of counterfeiting the. 
lion, the leopard's head, and the alpha- 
betical mark, and were sentenced to 
stand in the pillory at Westminster, 
with their ears nailed thereto, and then 
be put in the pillory at Cheapside and 
have one ear cut off; while in France 
death was the penalty for counterfeit- 
ing the marks of the Goldsmiths' Com- 
pany. Those old workmen who 
toiled so patiently to produce marvel- 
ous productions that have survived all 
changes in the world's history were 
jealous of the glory of their art ; to 
them we are indebted for the pride 
which is still taken in the fashioning of 
gold and silver, and with the study 
which American houses are bringing 
to bear on the subject, those who can 
afford to make their homes beautiful 
may be satisfied that they can still pos- 
sess treasures as rich and beautiful as 
those which, though wrought centu- 
ries ago, are still the delight of the 
artist and the antiquarian. 

John V. Hood.